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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Rudolfo Anaya was born in 1937 in the town of Pastura, New Mexico. He went to school in the nearby town of Santa Rosa and then studied in Albuquerque where he continues to live. He studied English and psychology. He taught for seven years in Albuquerque public school and then he worked as the director of counseling at the University of Albuquerque. When his novel, Bless Me, Ultima, was published, he entered the English faculty at the University of New Mexico as a professor.
Bless Me, Ultima was published at an important time in Latino/a history in the United States. A powerful movement was happening in political, economic and cultural spheres which affirmed the value of Latino/a experience and protested the discrimination Latino/as suffered. Bless Me, Ultima was one of the first Chicano novels to celebrate this movement. It affirms the varied parts of the heritage of Mexican Americans in New Mexico, the Spanish conquistadores, the Aztecs (the Indians of Mexico), and the Comanche (the Indians who inhabited the land that is now New Mexico).
It is set in the schools where the hero undergoes the process of assimilation that always begins by taking the ethnic name and turning it into an English name--Antonio becomes Anthony. It is set in the llano, rich in the history of the vaqueros, descendants of the Spanish conquistadores. It also affirms to heritage of the farming culture, which draws much of its lore from Aztec and other earth-based religious systems. It depicts the life of a Roman Catholic, but of a special sort. Here, a Roman Catholic who must learn how to reconcile the doctrines of Catholicism with the religion of the people who inhabited the land before the Christians came. In covering all the diversity of the heritage of his hero, Anaya gave voice to the diversity and richness of Latino/a heritage in this country.
The reader will notice that the novel uses Spanish words with some frequency. As we explain in the first chapterís notes, Anaya almost always provides a gloss (meaning) for these words in the immediate context in which they occur. Nevertheless, this guide provides the translations of Spanish words as they occur. As a reader, dwell on the reason Anaya might have chosen to use Spanish words in writing a novel which he knew would have its largest audience in European American people who do not know Spanish.
Anaya was part of a movement called Aztlan. This is the name of a mythical Aztec place. Latino/a writers and artists wanted to find a place of origin for their heritage. The mythical place of Aztlan was a useful way for writers to think back to the past that was before or alongside European American history. In other words, a European American writer might think of the origin of her/his family or country in the thirteen colonies. Since there were few Latino/a people participating in the American Revolution, a Latino/a writer would logically choose a different point of origin as a place to look back to for inspiration or cultural-historical reference.